Akshaya Panda of ‘SAI Probiotics’: “ You never know what the next one’s going to be!”

That’s the thing about disruptions — you never know what the next one’s going to be! All we can do is keep an open mind, be curious, go where the science takes us and be ready to adapt. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the […]

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That’s the thing about disruptions — you never know what the next one’s going to be! All we can do is keep an open mind, be curious, go where the science takes us and be ready to adapt.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Akshaya Panda.

Akshaya is the founder and CEO of SAI Probiotics LLC, a Minnesota-based probiotic company with a fresh approach to gut and immune health. He entered the probiotic industry more than 17 years ago, soon after receiving his MBA from Hult Business School in Cambridge, MA, and is a pioneer in the probiotic supplement space. Akshaya has led multiple probiotics firms and his innovations like desiccant bottling and delayed release capsules have become industry standards today. Due to his wealth of knowledge about domestic and international probiotics markets, he is frequently sought out for consulting and advisory services by business leaders and investors entering the probiotics space.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Around two decades ago, right when I left business school, people thought about health totally differently. We primarily focused on drugs and therapeutic interventions AFTER we got sick. Probiotics was an industry that was totally flipping that idea on its head. What if we took steps to prevent poor health outcomes before things got too bad? That’s what got me hooked. Added to the fact that only 10–15% of Americans at that point had even heard the term “probiotics,” I saw a huge opportunity for growth and education. Excited, I joined this field and haven’t looked back since! A big part of what we do at SAI Probiotics is to spread awareness and educate people about the benefits of prevention rather than treatment, and ultimately to make the world a better place.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

While every other probiotic company simply focuses on selecting the right bacterial strains, at SAI Probiotics we take things in a whole new direction: we bring in time-tested, scientifically-backed, natural ingredients into the mix. Our R&D team expends a huge amount of effort into studying the properties of these natural ingredients and figuring out innovative ways to combine them with probiotic bacteria to enhance their goodness. For example, our very first product is called Sai Pro Femme which combines cranberry and curcumin (natural ingredients) fused with eight strains of probiotic bacteria. Our formulation is unique because the inclusion of natural ingredients both enhances the stability and bioavailability of these eight probiotic strains while imparting new benefits like anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatoryproperties, something you won’t see in traditional probiotics. Chronic inflammation is a tremendous contributor to a number of diseases: Crohn’s disease, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. By using new approaches, we try to chip away at the root causes of these terrible diseases with an emphasis on prevention rather than treatment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Nothing comes to mind, sorry.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve learned valuable things from so many in my career, but there are a few people that have had the most influence on me. Early on, my father instilled some core values in me that I continue to uphold in my business and life: the importance of punctuality, honesty and integrity. Secondly, Dr. S. K. Dash, a probiotic pioneer, was an important mentor to me as I entered the probiotic space. Lastly, I must acknowledge my wife, who not only supports and inspires me but challenges me to improve, learn and grow.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

My time in this industry has definitely shown me both sides of the word “disruption” in probiotics and in consumerism, in general. The probiotic space is one that exemplifies disruption in its best sense. A couple of decades ago, the average individual likely didn’t even know what probiotics are or how important they are to our health. The pioneers of our industry have done a great service to our communities by making probiotics mainstream, making them accessible in supplement form, and educating the public on the importance of gut and immune health. On the flip side, I’ve also seen instances of “disruption” in the form of gimmicks and products that seek to create a niche in a thriving industry simply for the sake of attracting customers and profit, with no added benefit to the consumer. At SAI, we hope to continue “disrupting” in a positive way by challenging the paradigm, innovating and finding ways to bring value to our customers with natural, scientifically-backed products and ideas.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I learned that in order to be successful in any field, the first prerequisite is passion. Unless one has the passion to explore new horizons, one can’t move forward. Secondly, when we enter uncharted territory, no matter the business or field, we are bound to face both highs and lows. Maintaining positivity through it all can help us get through anything. Lastly, at SAI we always strive to make progress. Despite setbacks and unexpected hitches along the road, keeping our eye on the prize and finding a way forward has always benefited us. These three ‘p’s — passion, positivity and progress — are what keep us motivated to innovate and continue doing what we love.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

That’s the thing about disruptions — you never know what the next one’s going to be! All we can do is keep an open mind, be curious, go where the science takes us and be ready to adapt.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Sam Walton’s “Made In America” had a big influence. What Sam Walton did in the early 60s by founding the first Walmart ended up disrupting the big box retail industry and the rest is history. I was particularly inspired by his motto that you can learn from everybody. He’d make scouting trips and take notes in a yellow legal pad about what he found worked in stores across the street. Similarly, I feel that looking within my own industry and at sectors is always a great source of inspiration for new innovations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “Your best teacher is your last mistake.” I feel this is not only relevant to me but to everyone. As the founder of a start-up, I’ve faced a steep learning curve and had to learn from missteps first-hand. However, every mistake has been an opportunity for me to figure out myself how to better my approach and ultimately, propel our company forward.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

At SAI Probiotics, we care about holistic health and so the movement I’d like to promote is general healthy living. This is precisely what probiotics are about — maintaining our health at all times, not just when we are sick. Probiotic supplements are just one way of promoting our health and wellness. We can all take simple steps to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow SAI Probiotics LLC. online at

Website: www.saiprobiotics.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/akshaya-panda-6b59693/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saiprobiotics

Twitter: https://twitter.com/saiprobiotics

Thank you for these great insights!

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